Archive for the ‘Space News’ Category

Earth’s moon – a watering hole to enable long-term human exploration?
Image credit: NASA

 

 

A hot topic for moon researchers is whether or not water ice is an available, ripe for the picking resource at the lunar south pole.

The search for exploitable water ice is high on NASA’s Artemis agenda to blueprint a “sustainable” human presence pathway on the Moon, with water ice being the elixir for longevity of future expeditions there.

Lunar water ice is believed to reside within permanently-shadowed regions, or PSRs, contained within super-chilly “cold traps.”

Intuitive Machines mini-hopper is scheduled to dive into the permanently shadowed floor of Marston crater at the moon’s south pole.
Image credit: Intuitive Machines

A Space Resources Roundtable was held June 4-7 on the campus of the Colorado School of Mines. Experts brought attention to the scant data now in hand to shore up the prospect of utilizing water ice on the moon.

 

 

 

 

 

For more details on the prognosis for finding water ice on the Moon, go to my new SpaceNews story – “Moon ice in the Artemis era: what we still don’t know” – at:

https://spacenews.com/moon-ice-in-the-artemis-era-what-we-still-dont-know/

Image taken by mini-rover of Change’-6 lander/ascender spacecraft on the far side of the Moon.
Image credit: CNSA

 

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) now circling the Moon has taken its first look at China’s far side Chang’e-6 landing spot.

The lander is flanked by two craters similar in size to it, and is on the edge of a much more subtle crater about 50 meters wide, reports Mark Robinson, the principal investigator of the sharp-shooting camera system onboard LRO.

Chang’e-6 has been sighted within the Apollo basin on the lunar far side on June 7, 2024. The lander is seen as the small cluster of bright pixels in the center of the image.

Landing locale of China’s Change’-6 far side lander.
Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Rim shot

NASA’s LRO imaged China’s Chang’e 6 sample return spacecraft on the lunar farside five days after its June 1st landing and when LRO passed over, acquiring an image showing the Chang’e-6 lander on the rim of an eroded ~50 meter diameter crater.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) team computed the landing site coordinates as -41.6385°N, 206.0148°E, at -5256 meters elevation relative to the average lunar surface, with an estimated horizontal accuracy of plus-or-minus 30 meters.

“The increased brightness of the terrain surrounding the lander is due to disturbance from the lander engine and is similar to the blast zone seen around other lunar landers.

Click on image for before and after photography. Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Before and after imagery

In comparative imagery, a before image is from March 3, 2022, and the after image is the June 7, 2024 image.

The Chang’e 6 landing site is situated on a mare unit at the southern edge of the Apollo basin.

Robinson and colleagues at Arizona State University note that Basaltic lava erupted south of Chaffee S crater approximately 3.1 billion years ago and flowed downhill to the east until it encountered a local topographic high, likely related to a fault.

“Several wrinkle ridges in this region have deformed and raised the mare surface,” according to an LRO posting. “The landing site sits approximately halfway between two of these ridges. The lava flow also overlaps a slightly older flow, visible further east, but the younger flow is distinctive because it has higher iron oxide and titanium oxide abundances, the posting reports.

Homeward bound

Chang’e-6 was launched from south China’s Hainan Province on May 3, with the Chang’e-6 multi-component craft making the first-ever gathering of lunar samples from the far side of the Moon.

After completing its collection of lunar samples, the probe’s ascender segment departed from the lunar surface with the precious cargo. 

Parachuting to Earth, the Chang’e-6 capsule toting its lunar collection.
Image credit: CNSA/CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

After re-uniting with the Chang’e-6 mission orbiter and completing the lunar sample transfer last week, the returner segment is continuing to orbit the Moon, awaiting the time to initiate its return journey back to the Earth.

A projected date of June 25 is the likely return to Earth of the returner’s capsule, toting its cache of lunar collectibles, parachuting into a pre-picked landing zone at Siziwang Banner in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

At parachute touchdown, the Chang’e-6 will wrap up its 53-day journey of going to the Moon and back.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).
Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab

Book Review: After the Flying Saucers Came: A Global History of the UFO Phenomenon by Greg Eghigian; Oxford University Press, 2024; Hardcover, 400 pages; $29.99.

In this highly embraced volume the author explores how individuals, scientists, governments and the media responded to reports of UFO sightings and alien abductions, and what those responses say about the human experience.

Eghigian expertly tells this compelling tale via eight chapters, such as “Spaceships, Conspiracies, and the Birth of the UFO Detective, 1948-1953,” “Science and UFOs in the 1960s,” with a concluding segment “Where To, Where From, Wherefore?”

Image credit: Penn State/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“The UFO phenomenon essentially has been asking us to think of ourselves historically: what has been our past, what is going on right now, and what does the future hold?,” Eghigian writes. “The last question is one that has haunted the flying saucer mystery from the very beginning, and it was one that was acutely pressing during the Cold War.”

This book is a valuable contribution to unraveling (maybe snarl your mind more) the countless questions that swirl around UFOs, aliens from afar, and the significance of taking the time, pondering the plausible and implausible, and coming up with your own conclusions.

For an informative overview of the book, go to this article by Francisco Tutella at:

https://www.psu.edu/news/research/story/flying-saucers-and-alien-abductions-new-book-explores-history-ufos/?

Also, go to this video featuring the author, Greg Eghigian, as he details why he wrote this book and his feelings about the intriguing, perplexing world of UFOs in the past, the present, and what the future portends at:

https://youtu.be/vceSwjfqT7k?si=4EnB22n5Qkgeczdk

China’s Chang’e-6 lander/ascender in far side sampling scenery. Image taken by a mini-rover.
Image credit: CNSA/CLEP

That mysterious tiny rover let loose by China’s Chang’e-6 Moon lander has finally been spotlighted.

The state-run Xinhua news agency said the roughly 5 kilograms device is an autonomous, intelligent mini-robot, developed by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).

Weighing roughly 11 pounds (5 kilograms), the sporty mini-snooper is far lighter than China’s first lunar rover, Yutu, that drove across the lunar landscape in 2013.

Chang’e-6 pre-launch look with wheeled rover attached (left side of photo).
Image credit: CNSA/CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Ideal angle

“After Chang’e-6 collected the samples on the far side of the Moon,” Xinhua reports, “the mini rover autonomously detached from the lander, moved to a suitable position, selected an ideal angle for the photograph, and then captured the image.”

No word on the ultra-tiny Moon rover’s health given the Chang’e-6’s ascender blastoff  that lofted lunar collectibles into Moon orbit.

China’s humans-to-the-Moon program eyes by 2030 time period.
Image credit: CMS/CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China has announced selection of new astronaut candidates to ready the country for its future human treks to the Moon.

The China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) announced Tuesday that 10 candidates, including eight space pilots and two payload specialists, have been selected as the country’s fourth batch of astronauts.

Geology field work

Huang Weifen, chief designer of the manned space program’s astronaut system, told China Central Television (CCTV): “When the development of training simulators for manned lunar missions is completed, we will be able to unfold more substantive training tasks.”

Huang added that preliminary preparations are underway involving both existing astronauts and the newly-selected astronauts to engage in engineering development work and scientific research for future missions.

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

In preparation for Moon exploration expeditions, China’s astronauts are taking fundamental courses related to geology, including participation in field studies and geological surveys, Huang noted.

The CMSA announced in late May that China plans to realize a crewed lunar landing by 2030.

Pilots, flight engineers, payload specialists

The ten candidates include eight pilots and two payload specialists from the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the other is from the Macao Special Administrative Region, the CMSA explained.

China’s astronaut training activities for space station and Moon exploration duties.

This selection of the fourth batch of Chinese astronaut candidates began in the second half of 2022.

Back in 1998, China picked 14 astronauts from air force pilots and an additional seven in 2010. Selection of the third batch of 18 astronauts in 2020 included space pilots, flight engineers and payload specialists.

Huang said the building of an astronaut team, from the selection of astronauts to the training programs, has been organized to support both China’s space station missions and future human excursions to the Moon.

For an informative video on the selection of new astronauts and China’s human reach for the Moon, go to:

https://www.facebook.com/share/v/gFDiAT8ZjsNt2uY6/

Flag deployed from China’s Chang’e-6 lander/ascender in far side sampling scenery.
Image credit: CNSA/CLEP

 

About that five-star red flag now in position on the far side of the Moon – it’s made of basalt, a type of volcanic rock that’s plentiful on the lunar surface.

On June 2, China’s Chang’e-6 far side robotic lander touched down in the South Pole-Aitken (SPA) Basin on the Moon.

 

 

Post-landing, the national flag was sprung out from the firmly-footed Chang’e-6 lander/ascender.

That flag measures 300 millimeters by 200 millimeters, about the size of an A4 sheet of paper.

Image credit: CNSA/CLEP/CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Weighing only 11.3 grams, the far side flag is similar in size to the flag carried by the earlier Chang’e-5 lunar lander that spot-landed on the Moon’s near side in 2020.

Inorganic fiber

The decision to use basalt, China Central Television (CCTV) reports, was guided by the “in-situ utilization” principle, to leverage resources available on the lunar surface rather than transporting materials from Earth, an approach that aligns with China’s goal of sustainable lunar exploration, the state-run television group notes.

A member of the Chang’e-6 “national flag development team” is Cao Genyang, a professor at Wuhan Textile University.

Cao Genyang, professor, Wuhan Textile University; member, Chang’e-6 national flag development team.
Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“Building on this idea and the lunar ‘local specialty’ brought back by Chang’e-5, we have found in the literature that the main content of lunar soil is basalt, Cao told CCTV. “So we thought that since this material actually exists in large quantities on the Moon, how can we use it as a high-performance inorganic fiber?”

Early research was performed on basalt fiber for China’s future lunar exploration project, Cao said.

Cutting-edge textile technology

Wang Yunli, professor of Wuhan Textile University, and a member of the Chang’e-6 national flag development team, added that the flag’s printing and dyeing process involved specialized approaches.

“Our pigments and formulas are specially developed to adapt the flag to the extreme conditions on the Moon and the conditions during orbiting and landing,” Wang said, and makes use of “cutting-edge” textile technology.

Wang Yunli, professor, Wuhan Textile University; member, Chang’e-6 national flag development team.
Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Basalt as an inorganic fiber is smooth and brittle, making it difficult to spin and maintain in high-durability colors.

Weathering lunar conditions

Cao explained that the flag development team found it challenging to create the ideal and desired ultra-fine fibers after encountering many failures.

Ordinary materials were unsuitable for the lunar flag. But the basalt fiber is endowed with outstanding insulation and radiation resistance, CCTV reports, making it ideal for weathering the harsh conditions on the lunar surface.

The result: a national flag with superior corrosion resistance, high-temperature tolerance, and low-temperature endurance.

The final version of the national flag was produced with composite material primarily composed of basalt, accounting for 62 percent of all the materials.

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“The entire production of the flag started with the rocks,” said Wang. “We first mixed together all the basalt rocks collected from different locations before breaking them into very small pieces.”

 

Multi-step process

The first step was to draw the processed basalt rocks into ultra-fine fibers.

A second step was to spin those fibers into thread, leading to the third and fourth steps of weaving the threads into fabrics and printing.

The fifth step was to enhance the performance of the fabrics using specific physical and chemical methods and techniques, Wang added.

“After that, we proceeded with laser cutting, trimming, and sewing until a national flag was made,” Wang said, later becoming the first flag of any country to fly on the far side of the Moon.

Far side scenery taken by Chang’e-6 lander/ascender.
Image credit: CNSA/CLEP

Excitement is mounting for the return of lunar samples from the far side of the Moon.

China’s on-going Chang’e-6 mission is nearing departure from lunar orbit, making a bee-line for the Earth and delivering a motherlode of Moon materials.

Late last week, more than 200 Chinese scientists from 31 domestic universities and research institutes gathered in Beijing at the Institute of Geology and Geophysics, participating in a “Chang’e-6 Landing Area Geological Background Seminar.”

Deployed mini-rover from Chang’e-6 lander/ascender captured the robotic explorer at work.
Image credit: CNSA/CLEP

In a posting from James Head, a leading lunar expert at Brown University: “This seminar/workshop was designed to highlight the geological setting of the sample return landing site in the Apollo basin, and the types of scientific problems that can potentially be addressed by analysis of the Chang’e-6 return samples, both themes designed to assist scientists across China in preparing proposals for analysis of the Chang’e-6 samples. 

Image credit: James Head

Step by step

Launched from south China’s Hainan Province on May 3, the Chang’e-6 multi-component craft made the first-ever gathering of lunar samples from the far side of the Moon.

The probe’s lander-ascender combination safely touched down in the South Pole-Aitken (SPA) Basin on the Moon last Sunday. After completing its collection of lunar samples on Sunday and Monday, the probe’s ascender segment departed from the lunar surface with the precious cargo on Tuesday.

Locked and loaded…with lunar samples.
Image credit: CNSA/CLEP

 

After re-uniting with the orbiter and completing the lunar sample transfer on Thursday, the returner segment will continue to orbit the Moon, awaiting the time to initiate its return journey back to the Earth.

Re-entry day

The returner’s capsule, toting its cache of lunar collectibles, will parachute into a pre-picked landing zone at Siziwang Banner in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

Chang’e-6 returner component delivers the lunar goods to Earth.
Imaage credit: CNSA/CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Release of returner capsule loaded with far side samples.
Image credit: CNSA/CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Parachuting to Earth, the Chang’e-6 capsule toting its lunar collection.
Image credit: CNSA/CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

 

That re-entry is projected to take place on June 25 (Beijing Time), according to informed sources. At capsule touchdown, the Chang’e-6 mission wraps up its 53-day journey of going to the Moon and back.

European ground stations are providing support to the Chang’e-6 mission, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). Shortly after the launch from China on May 3, ESA’s Kourou station in French Guiana tracked the spacecraft for several hours to confirm its orbit.

Around June 25, ESA will catch signals from the Chang’e-6 returner as it brings to Earth its grab and go Moon samples via ESA’s Maspalomas station, operated by the Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aerospacial (INTA) in Gran Canaria, Spain.

The European Space Agency’s Maspalomas station is located on the campus of the Instituto Nacional de Tecnica Aerospacial (INTA), in the southern part of the Canary Islands’ Gran Canaria, at Montaña Blanca.
Image credit: ESA

 

 

International partnership

James Carpenter, lead for Moon and Mars Science for ESA’s Directorate of Human and Robotic Exploration, stressed that the Chang’e-6 samples could help broaden humanity’s understanding of the Moon’s formation.

“China has presented a very exciting plan for lunar exploration, after Chang’e-6, we have the Chang’e-7 mission and Chang’e-8. They’re talking about having humans on the surface of the Moon and an international lunar research station,” Carpenter said, speaking to China Media Group (CMG) from Noordwijk, the Netherlands.

“These are things that China has set out as elements of their plan. I think it’s a very exciting plan, I think the scientific outcomes that could come from this would be fantastic. And I think internationally we’re all interested to see how this progresses and where are the opportunities for international partnership,” Carpenter said.

Image credit: WLOS/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Yet another chunk of SpaceX junk from space has apparently been found in a resident’s yard in North Carolina.

As reported by the WLOS television station, this latest incident adds to objects of various sizes and weights being tied to surviving fragments of the jettisoned “trunk” associated with the SpaceX Dragon Crew-7 mission.

Katrinka Barnett found the space junk-related object in her yard in Jackson County about a week before Memorial Day.

Space clutter similarity

SpaceX Dragon trunk debris falls into North Carolina.
mage credit: WLOS TV staff

Barnett’s finding looks similar to two other larger pieces found around the same time in Canton and Franklin within North Carolina. Furthermore, this type of SpaceX space clutter from separate incidents has been found in Australia and Canada.

For a view of my new SpaceNews story – “Uncontrolled reentry of space debris poses a real and growing threat” – go to:

https://spacenews.com/uncontrolled-reentry-of-space-debris-poses-a-real-and-growing-threat/

“Wait-a-minute”
Image credit: Barbara David

In classic “wait-a-minute” style, back in mid-April, NASA requested proposals from industry to do a double-take on the costly Mars Sample Return (MSR) initiative to return samples of the Red Planet in the 2030s.

NASA is now moving forward with 10 studies to examine more affordable and faster methods of bringing samples from Mars’ surface back to Earth.

Image credit: NASA

The MSR seven

As part of this re-look, NASA will award a firm-fixed-price contract for up to $1.5 million to conduct 90-day studies to seven industry proposers.

Additionally, the go-ahead has been given to NASA centers, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Johns Hopkins’ Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) to also crank out MSR re-evaluation studies in the hopes of improving MSR’s price tag and schedule.

Mars sample return to Earth – a major and multi-billion dollar undertaking by NASA, the European Space Agency.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Alterations or enhancements

Once all the studies are in hand, NASA will assess them to consider alterations or enhancements to the Mars Sample Return architecture, tagged by independent assessment groups as perhaps costing upwards of $11 billion to carry out.

NASA has announced that the following companies and their proposals were selected from among those that responded to the April 15 request for help in re-shaping the MSR undertaking. They are:

 

Lockheed Martin, Littleton, Colorado: “Lockheed Martin Rapid Mission Design Studies for Mars Sample Return”

SpaceX, Hawthorne, California: “Enabling Mars Sample Return With Starship”

Aerojet Rocketdyne, Huntsville, Alabama: “A High-Performance Liquid Mars Ascent Vehicle, Using Highly Reliable and Mature Propulsion Technologies, to Improve Program Affordability and Schedule”

Blue Origin, Monrovia, California: “Leveraging Artemis for Mars Sample Return”

Quantum Space, Rockville, Maryland: “Quantum Anchor Leg Mars Sample Return Study”

Northrop Grumman, Elkton, Maryland: “High TRL [Technology Readiness Level]  MAV [Mars Ascent Vehicle] Propulsion Trades and Concept Design for MSR Rapid Mission Design”

Whittinghill Aerospace, Camarillo, California: “A Rapid Design Study for the MSR Single Stage Mars Ascent Vehicle”

The Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) is a major and costly component of NASA’s robotic Holy Grail mission, a sample return effort to haul to Earth Martian collectibles.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Dumpster fire

All of this activity was sparked last September when an independent review board (IRB) released its findings after taking a diligent and detailed look at the flagship MSR project.

The IRB was established by NASA to judge the technical requirements, cost and calendar plans of the task. It was a thorough sanity check on how things were going for MSR…and things were found not to be going well.

For more information, go to my Scientific American story – “NASA’s Troubled Mars Sample Mission Has Scientists Seeing Red – NASA’s Mars Sample Return program is the agency’s highest priority in planetary science, but projected multibillion-dollar overruns have some calling the plan a “dumpster fire”” – at:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/nasas-troubled-mars-sample-mission-has-scientists-seeing-red/

 

Image credit: SpaceX/Inside Outer Space screengrab

SpaceX has issued details of the company’s Starship Flight #4.

Lifting off on June 6 from Starbase in Texas, Starship “went on to deliver maximum excitement,” explains the posting, “attempting to go farther than any previous test before and begin demonstrating capabilities central to return and reuse of Starship and Super Heavy.”

“The payload for this test was the data,” explains SpaceX.

One engine out. Image credit: SpaceX/Inside Outer Space screengrab

What was accomplished?

Here are the performance stats:

  • The Super Heavy booster lifted off successfully and completed a full-duration ascent burn.
  • Starship executed another successful hot-stage separation, powering down all but three of Super Heavy’s Raptor engines and successfully igniting the six second stage Raptor engines before separating the vehicles.
  • Following separation, the Super Heavy booster successfully completed its flip maneuver, boostback burn to send it towards the splashdown zone, and jettison of the hot-stage adapter.
  • The booster’s flight ended with a landing burn and soft splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico seven minutes and 24 seconds into the flight.

Image credit: SpaceX/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Controlled reentry

— Starship’s six second stage Raptor engines successfully powered the vehicle to space and placed it on the planned trajectory for coast.

— Starship made a controlled reentry, successfully making it through the phases of peak heating and max aerodynamic pressure and demonstrating the ability to control the vehicle using its flaps while descending through the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds.

— Starlink on Starship once again enabled real-time telemetry and live high-definition video throughout every phase of entry, with external cameras providing views all the way to the flight’s conclusion.

— Flight 4 ended with Starship igniting its three center Raptor engines and executing the first flip maneuver and landing burn since our suborbital campaign, followed by a soft splashdown of the ship in the Indian Ocean one hour and six minutes after launch.

Major strides

In summary form, SpaceX explains that the fourth flight of Starship “made major strides to bring us closer to a rapidly reusable future.”

Data accumulated by the flight will drive improvements to develop Starship into a fully reusable transportation system “designed to carry crew and cargo to Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars and beyond,” SpaceX concludes.

Go to SpaceX Starship Flight Test #4 video at:

https://www.spacex.com/launches/mission/?missionId=starship-flight-4